Traditionally, fragrances worn by women fell into two basic categories: “respectable women” that favoured the essence of a single garden flower and sexually provocative perfumes heavy with animal musk or jasmine, associated with women of the demi-monde, prostitutes, or courtesans.
Coco Chanel wanted “a woman’s perfume, with a woman’s scent,” choosing celebrity perfumer Ernest Beaux to create her signature fragrance.
Rather than create a single note scent, Beaux played with a modern mix of vetiver, ylang ylang, orange blossom, sandalwood, essence of neroli, tonka bean, Mai rose and jasmine. He also bravely added a further abstract ingredient not used before in perfumery to his fifth sample – aldehyde, the synthetic component that would exaggerate notes and make them sparkle, while adding an unusual complexity to fragrance.
The fifth sample was of Coco’s favourite, leading to the iconic Chanel No.5’s brand name. Notably, the glass bottle was celebrated by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where artist Andy Warhol depicted the iconic shape in a series of silk screen prints.